CC Wary of Falling Short
by Joe Meloni/CHN Reporter
Power plays typically mean good things for Colorado College.
The No. 4 seed in the West Regional of the NCAA Tournament, which kicks off Friday afternoon in St. Louis, ranks 10th in the nation on the man advantage, converting on 22.5 percent of its opportunities this season. Six players enter the tournament with at least three power-play goals to their credit.
At times, though, the Tigers’ prolific power play leaves Owens in a state of frustration. Aside from counting themselves among the country's premier units, the Tigers also allowed more shorthanded goals than any other team in the country.
Playing any opponent on any rink during the NCAA Tournament is a bad time to allow a shorthanded goal. However, CC’s adversary this weekend is the last team any club can afford to spot a shorty too.
Boston College, defending national champion and reigning Hockey East Champion, ranks among the leaders in most categories measuring goal scoring of any kind. Shorthanded goals aren’t any different. With 13 on the season, the BC penalty kill, which dispatched 86.9 percent of opposition man advantages this year, is just one more scoring threat CC must prepare for entering the regional.
“[Our power play is] a high-risk, high-reward power play,” Owens said. “It has been good for us most of the season, and we have guys that work our system pretty well. When it has worked, we've been successful and won some games with it, but we've also given up a lot of shorthanded goals and that has been a problem for us all year. This time of the year, you can't be doing that.”
With players the likes of Cam Atkinson and Brian Gibbons pressuring the points this weekend, the Colorado College point men will be on especially high alert. Like it’s full-strength offense, the BC penalty kill turns defense into goals using its three greatest assets: speed, creativity and anticipation. With Atkinson and Gibbons manning its primary unit and Barry Almeida and Bill Arnold serving as its second, equally dangerous pairing, the Eagles understand when to make a move and the right time to relax.
Unlike most penalty kills, BC relies on intense pressure from its forwards at the top of the box. The moment any point man takes a pass, Atkinson, Almeida or any of the other penalty-killers apes the movements of its opponent.
“Boston College leads the nation in shorthanded goals,” Owens said. “They pressure you in all facets of the game. On their penalty kill, they have guys that can pressure your team to make mistakes and, at the same time, have guys that are skilled enough to score when given the chance.”
However, Almeida knows this behavior could be problematic against Colorado College. As confident as BC is in its aggressive kill, the Tigers succeed with quick, confident puck movement, designed to create open men and shooting lanes. While the Eagles smallish forwards need to be active to be effective, one step too far will leave one of the CC snipers wide open for what could a game-changing goal.
“We’ve talked about their power play, and we know that they have one the best power plays in the country,” Almeida said. “We have to be aware of that. We’re not really trying to generate offense off it, though. We just kind of play our game and things happen on the penalty kill. It’s not like we’re trying to score on every penalty kill, but if we get the chance we’re going to try and attack. That’s the kind of penalty-killing unit we are. We also have to be cognizant of their players. You obviously don’t want to cheat too much, because Colorado College will make you look pretty dumb and put it in the back of the net.”
Against Merrimack in the Hockey East Championship, Almeida and Arnold’s aggression resulted in Merrimack’s third goal, which tied the game, 3-3. Off a faceoff, Arnold bit on Merrimack pointman Stephane Da Costa’s move toward the midpoint a little too hard. The half step cost him, as Da Costa quickly moved to the puck to Mike Collins who found Ryan Flanigan wide open on the goal line. It took Flanigan a nifty bank shot to beat BC goaltender John Muse, but leaving any player wide open in the third period of a one-goal game is not the type of play that will win BC a second consecutive national championship.
For Owens and his gifted power-play unit, a few BC minor penalty may be all they need upset the Eagles. They know to be careful, though, because a power play against BC can turn into breakaway in an instant.